By Sarah Palmer, CES Communications
Max Goplerud received his Ph.D. from the Department of Government at Harvard University in 2020. At CES, he was a Graduate Student Affiliate and Co-chair of the Seminar on Populism. In the fall, he will be joining the Department of Political Science at the University of Pittsburgh as an assistant professor. CES spoke to him about finalizing his dissertation during the pandemic and his plans for the future.
CES: Can you address the experience of having to finish your dissertation and end your academic journey at Harvard with the onslaught of COVID-19?
Max Goplerud: I've been very fortunate in how COVID-19 has impacted my research. The work I do is more computational based, not having access to the libraries was less catastrophic than if I was a historian, for example. There was some data that would have been useful, and I knew exactly where it was in the Harvard library, but I couldn’t get to it. That was frustrating, but in the grand scheme of how people's research was disrupted, it was very minor.
In general, my advisors were good about staying in touch and continuing meetings online. That is obviously not that same as being in person but allowed for a decent amount of contact with everyone throughout the final process. It was obviously sad not to be able to see colleagues and friends around the department, but I was able to get everything wrapped up in the end.
CES: In the fall, you're going to be an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh. This is a time when the whole world of academia is, shall we say, going through a bit of a metamorphosis. What does that look like for you?
Max Goplerud: I'm in Boston now, but I’m moving at the end of July to Pittsburgh. I think, at Harvard and everywhere else in the country, things are clearly being thought through and worked on, but the exact final contours are still not fully decided.
In a couple of the classes that I TA’d during my Ph.D., there was a Zoom component. These courses used asynchronous teaching with message boards set up and office hours calibrated for remote students. So, I have some experience with that, but trying to deal with the synchronicity of doing the lecture in person, while also teaching on Zoom will be a little bit delicate.
It’s clearly not what anyone expected the fall of 2020 to be. However, the summer allows time for us to think more carefully about how to give everyone the best experience possible. There are changes being made, such as recording more material and putting more online, which are actually useful to do in general.
CES: Has the current unfolding global experience affected what you plan on bringing into the classroom?
Max Goplerud: What I will be teaching in the fall is a course for students with limited exposure to programming with the goal of giving them the skills to visualize or present data.
It will be interesting because part of the way you help people learn programming is bouncing around the room, talking to people. You do a little bit of a lecture, you give people a task and walk around listening to the processes. That's harder to do on Zoom, so I’m trying to think carefully about how I can use breakout rooms effectively. I also need to have more office hours, maybe even a drop-in study hall where I'm sitting on Zoom and people can pop in if they have any questions. It’s hard to replace some of the easier face-to-face aspects, but it has to be done.
CES: It's always difficult to enter a new social structure, but especially now with social distancing. How do you see yourself overcoming some of these obstacles?
Max Goplerud: Yes, that is tricky. People have been really nice about reaching out, saying ‘once you've settled in and moved here, we can do a virtual cocktail meet up.’ Everyone being in the office, the light communication, popping into someone’s office, having lunch together, the more low-grade socializing will be hard to replace. But people are being proactive about building those relationships without being physically in the same place.
In normal times you do a lot of socializing with your colleagues when you move there initially. That may be delayed, but people seem very eager to have some kind of return to normal socializing as much as anyone can do safely.
CES: In this in-between, are there any new things pulling your interest? How are you filling your hours?
Max Goplerud: I've used the end of the dissertation as a clear milestone. Now, I'm building up and resetting some of the good habits that make me productive and well-rounded. You try to keep them up in grad school, but you lose a little here and there. So, for example, I’m trying to read more novels. Before I go to bed, I put the phone down, and read for at least a half an hour. I know it helps me turn off.
Also, I have some projects that were not related to my dissertation that had to get paused for a few months. It’s been nice returning to those things. I can be a little more pluralistic with the research I'm working on, such as legislative studies.
CES: Eventually this will be in the rear-view mirror. So, on a lighter note, you’re getting on a plane. Where's that plane going?
Max Goplerud: I actually have a pretty easy answer. For me it would be going back to England. I did my undergrad there, and I have a lot of close friends that I usually see once a year to reconnect. I would normally have gone back in the summer to do that, but clearly that wasn't happening. That’s it for me, it's not anything super exciting, just a return to my usual summer routine, but it’s definitely top of the list once normal travel can safely resume.